Legend has it that I received my first model trains at the age of two. Somewhere in a long forgotten photo album there’s visual proof.

In the years since, I’ve tried it all. I’ve had the 1960s plastic equivalent of Brio wooden trains, American Flyer, and countless HO.

Previous layouts ran the spectrum from an early eight-foot square plywood table, to 4×8 slabs, to island designs in the attic of the house I grew up in and numerous shelf layouts in different scales in the basement of the current house.

Early on I went from generic trainset themes, to the coal railroad craze in the 1970s-80s, with a mish-mash of everything but the kitchen sink in between and since. In short, I’ve tried it all and then some with varying degrees of success and frustration.

Over the decades, I’ve gone from rabid enthusiasm to near total indifference and back to enthusiasm and, eventually, learned what I wanted from it all and why. These days, that understanding feels good.

I found this short video online that expresses what I love about railroading. It conveys more in nine minutes than I ever could with words. Enjoy if you decide to watch and I suggest you switch the default resolution from 360 to 480 by clicking on the gear icon.



  1. Galen Gallimore

    Definitely a worthwhile watch to get a sense of switching. I can see where you’d be drawn to a video like this based on the direction your modeling philosophy is heading. The video gives you a nice impression of standing trackside experiencing the sounds of the train and rails, and the mass of the equipment. It also makes me miss the Frederickson Industrial Park where I’d go watch Tacoma Rail switch the Hardy plant.

    A couple thoughts, which I hope you find helpful.

    One – are you familiar with Delay In Block videos on YouTube? I know you have said you don’t want a drone’s eye view, but even so, to my eye the shots Delay in Block seems to get using their drone somehow captures the power and mass of the locomotives and equipment even from that viewpoint. Similar videos to the one you shared.

    Two – I think the video illustrates how railroads don’t curve unless they need to. But that got me thinking about your cameo vignette approach. Once the track leaves the modeled scene it doesn’t need to be straight. However, if the scene is convincing enough and the unscenicked off-stage portions reliable enough, the impression may be after a while that the track is straight and continues that way indefinitely. The trick is to keep from looking at the off-stage areas. They must be bulletproof enough to be reliable without watching what goes on there, otherwise, the illusion created by the visible portion is shattered.

    Finally a couple design questions related to the goal of it all: Can you create a scene that puts you in “the zone” where you lose track of time and your surroundings? Can it be convincing or engaging enough to suck you in to the exclusion of the functional apparatus of modeling?

  2. mike

    Hi Galen,

    I looked up the channel. Looks interesting. Drone photography is unique for now but I sense it will become old news quickly as everyone jumps on the bandwagon with it. Still, it can be impressive.

    To your other points, I agree railroads prefer a direct route whenever possible. You’re right, the off stage track doesn’t have to be straight or even to the same standards as visible trackage. As you suggested reliability is the thing. The transitions are the tricky part. We believe the more hidden they are the better but this creates its own set of problems by drawing attention, which is the opposite of what we’re trying to do. On the old layout I started with an end panel with the typical hole in the sky. I disguised the hole with a screen of trees and that seemed to work. I was happy until I removed it for some reason and never put it back. I discovered the simple screening of dense trees worked well. There was no lighting over the staging cassette and that also helped it disappear visually. It seemed the contrast between the blue sky and the darker hole drew the eye. Removing that stark contrast improved the scene. Now the train could just gracefully exit without a lot of fuss.

    The second question is harder. I could create a scene that engages me but not others. As an only child growing up I learned to entertain myself and developed my imagination. To this day, I can get “lost” in an activity pretty easily if I want. Individuals are so different, it would be a stretch to suggest creating a scene that would engage anyone is possible. That feels like too much of a blanket statement. I do think people can do it for themselves with enough introspection and self awareness.